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When the golden boy took the mound yesterday he must have felt right at home, what with the golden dome of the Iowa statehouse beyond the center-field wall and the Notre Dame fight song blaring over the PA system conjuring flashbacks of his alma mater.

Six innings and 101 pitches later Jeff Samardzija left having made another tentative promise on his well-financed junket through the bush leagues to the big-time.

He surrendered only one run despite walking six and recorded his first AAA win in his second start at that level.

If his dues-paying teammates resent his gilded glide through the system you wouldn't have known it by watching Koyie Hill throw out two base stealers or Luis Figueroa snuff out another threat by going way out of his way to snare a ball on the inskirts of CF and throw out the guy who hit it there.

Samardzija [I spelled it that time without looking it up] was also helped by a viagran breeze blowing straight in from LF @ 20 MPH. It caught one ball smoked to left-center and blew foul another that was thumped well beyond the RF fence.

Over the course of his season-and-a-half in pro ball the kid the Cubs lured from the NFL has now made 43 starts covering 229 innings. He's surrendered 257 hits and walked 94 while fanning 118. Not exactly glittering results.

Still, having now witnessed the most recent six of those innings I get why the Cubs got Samardzija.

First of all, he's imposing on the mound at 6'5" and 220. When he gets in jams he pitches like he's playing football. Case in point: Yesterday he faced Dallas McPherson in the top of the third protecting a 2-1 lead. McPherson leads all of pro baseball this year with 28 homers and just this weekend had a string of seven straight games with a homer snapped. To that point Samardzija hadn't topped 91 on the scoreboard speedometer. The sixth pitch of what ended as an eight-pitch strikeout registered 94 [scouts at Principal Park have told me that their guns consistently register 2-3 mph's faster than the ballpark's].

After looking like a prop at the plate in his first two AB's, Samardzija came up with the bases loaded in the fifth and got interested, slicing a sharp single to right through a drawn-in infield.

In short, the guy clearly likes to compete.

He threw first-pitch strikes to only 14 of the 24 hitters he faced. He only had one inning where he retired three straight. But his arm is lively and, money no longer being a concern, he seems to care mostly about winning. McPherson, a one-time phenom himself, was quoted in the local paper this morning as saying that Samardzija's fastball and splitter are both big-league caliber.

Once they're thrown as accurately as the Brady Quinn passes Samardzija used to catch, that's where he'll be throwing them, I suspect.

ALSO: His two RBI's yesterday give Micah Hoffpauir 26 in only 22 games with the I-Cubs this year...Figueroa almost suffered an improbable injury when he emerged from the dugout to lead-off in the bottom of the 2nd and was nearly run down by the golf cart the hot dog gunner was riding in...as a p.s. to AZ Phil's Pie post yesterday, I got to interview Felix once last year not long after he was sent back from his first taste of the 'bigs'. It was a rainy morning on a weekday with a matinee scheduled. An I-Cub official escorted me to a players' lounge area of the full, bustling clubhouse where I waited for Felix, apparently the last of the team to arrive. When he did he was sullen and practically non-communicative until the subject of his buddy Alfonso Soriano came up. Later our chat was interrupted by the team official who had to inform Felix why his rental car had been towed after he parked it smack dab in front of his downtown hotel late the previous evening and where he would have to go to get it back. It didn't sound like anybody was going to go get it for him which surprised me at the time. As for his general demeanor and tardiness to the ballpark, I was inclined to chalk them up as natural for a kid with his background in a strange place where the language too was unfamiliar. Given all the whispers going around Chicago media this spring about Pie's bad case of 'big-leagueitis', I have to wonder now...MW

 

Hello again from Des Moines, the soggy branch office of the Chicago Cubs National League ballclub.

A bizarre homestand that began last weekend with a flood-delayed game played behind closed doors as a public safety precaution ended last night with the season's largest crowd witnessing the latest episode in the unraveling of Rich Hill.

One night after Sean Marshall required only 87 pitches to get 24 outs, Hill scatter-gunned 45 before he was taken into custody after a mere two-thirds of the first inning.

He hit batters, batters hit him, he walked #'s 29, 30, 31 and 32 in 28 Iowa innings, threw in a wild pickoff throw that seemed almost gratuitous and generally made a[n] [Steve Bl]ass of himself before being ushered to the showers by tepid applause that was as unwarranted here as it would have been at a gallows.

How appropos that the opponent for the Iowa Floods was the New Orleans Hurricane.

The visitors' operatic lineup sparkled with Gustavos and Casanovas and Rauls and Valentinos and Pascuccis.

Understudies to Marshall on Thursday night, they killed Hill in the first act on Friday before the concessionaires had beaten back the first charge of a crowd in excess of 11k.

Marshall apparently won't be here much longer. He's ripe and ready for the call. As for Hill, he's best-suited right now for casting as Nuke Laloosh in a 'Bull Durham' remake.

The anti-climactic pitching note of the evening was the appearance of a young moose named Estrada for the I-Cubs. Recently promoted from Tennessee where his #'s were ordinary, he's listed at 6'8" and 260#. So far in two stints here he's allowed five hits and two runs in seven innings while walking zero and fanning 10. File him under future reference.

Following the good example of their parent club the I-Cubs now hit the road still in first place - high and, more importantly, dry...MW

 

 

Micah Hoffpauir was activated a week ago and the Iowa Cubs haven't lost since. In the last two games alone he's driven in more runs than the pesky redhead has in 23. Yesterday he manned a post in right-field, possibly as a Plan B in the event of a failed Jim Edmonds experiment.

Meanwhile Kevin Hart was 'stretched out' from 67 pitches in his previous start all the way to 68 yesterday; from 3.2 innings all the way to four.

Expecting to see the enigmatic Rich Hill make a not so triumphant return to the scene of some of his finest professional work, I headed to the ballpark last night planning to call it a night whenever he did.

He only lasted five innings but I stayed for a sixth when it was assigned to Scott Eyre.

The battery in the starting lineup was Hill squared, and after three innings it was hard to say whose arm was more impressive, the left of Rich or the right of Koyie. At that point Rich had fanned three but Koyie had thrown out a man stealing and picked another off of second.

For the record, Rich Hill allowed seven hits and two runs while walking one and striking out five on the night. I had him for 47 strikes among his 78 pitches, but left with other less quantifiable impressions of his work.

Hill's misses weren't close. The 'balls' he threw were so flagrant that the batter was rarely tempted by them.

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I delayed my end-of-homestand post for a day so I could see how Sean Gallagher followed up on his brilliant outing from last week.

The results? Mixed.

Gallagher retired the first ten Fresno hitters he faced. He entered the sixth having surrendered only one run and retired the first two routinely before an infield single dripped from the faucet. A stolen base followed, then an intentional walk, then an accidental walk and Gallagher called it a night, leaving the bases loaded and the water running for Carmen Pignatiello.

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The season here in Des Moines has had a hard time getting started this year. Bad weather, bad team and bad schedule; you're out!

Yesterday was an exception.

Sean Gallagher served up a tasty lunch in a nooner matinee at Principal Park on one of the very few days so far when the elements didn't cross-up the schedule makers.

After seven innings Gallagher had thrown 86 pitches, allowing one run on three hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. All 12 K's were swinging, most of them on a nasty breaking ball.

His pitch counts by inning were as follows: 11, 13,13, 14, 16, 9 and 10.

They trotted him back out for the eighth, the only frame when he failed to fan anybody. He walked the leadoff man, erased him on a DP grounder, gave up a base hit and called it a day after 101 mostly carveaceous, to coin a word, pitches.


...350 miles west of Chicago on I-80, Mike Wellman keeps tabs on the Iowa Cubs in the PCL...


Living here in Des Moines I've always gotten a kick out of the local team playing in the Pacific Coast League. I guess that makes the portion of the 'road to Wrigley' that runs through here the Pacific Coast Highway. Here's my dispatch after the season's first homestand.

Of the eight games scheduled four were lost to opponents, three were lost to Mother Nature [one of which was reclaimed as the front end of a day/night doubleheader] and two went into the win column.

The team now heads to Nashville for a four-game set with the [micro] Brewers as the I-Cubs and Sounds resume their subsidiary version of the growing rivalry between Chicago and Milwaukee.

It's hard to glean much from the limited six-game sample, very little of which was played in conditions conducive to baseball, but here are some early trends that will bear watching as the season unfolds:

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Sean Marshall was supposed to start for the Iowa Cubs tonight against Albuquerque in Des Moines. Instead he's on his way to Pittsburgh, exchanging roster spots with Carmen Pignatiello. Apparently Lou Piniella huffed and puffed and blew 'Piggy' back to the minors after the southpaw showed his appreciation for making the big club by walking both hitters he faced in Monday's 10-8 torture tilt.

Four games into their season-opening eight game homestand the Iowa Cubs are off to a sputtering 1-3 start.

THE GOOD NEWS: Both Seans [Marshall and Gallagher], Neal Cotts, Eric Patterson and Matt Murton.

THE BAD NEWS: Micah Hoffpauir, Sam Fuld and Matt Murton.

Marshall started the opener and retired all nine batters he faced, six of them on strikes, as he pitch-counts his way back from an ill-advised audition for a spot in the Chicago bullpen.

The next night Gallagher tossed five economical innings, allowing only two hits and a run with one walk and five strikeouts.

Cotts went two perfect innings and fanned three in his only appearance so far.

In Saturday's day-night doubleheader you might say that Patterson rode a tandem cycle. After notching a single and a double in the matinee, he spanked a triple down the left-field line and pulled a homer over the scoreboard in right in the nightcap. He's been playing at second base.

Murton makes both lists because he's hit safely in every game and drawn a couple of walks to open at a .357/.471 clip, but all five hits are singles. He's scored once without driving in a run.

Hoffpauir tweaked an oblique in an exhibition tilt versus the University of Iowa and headed straight back to Arizona. He's expected back in another week or so.

Fuld is on the active roster but has played in only one of the first four games, going 1-4 when he patrolled CF in the opener of Saturday's DH. Probably not coincidentally, the weather Saturday afternoon offered easily the best playing conditions of the week.

Mark Holliman starts tonight in the opener of a four-game set with Albuquerque.

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